Thursday, May 6 2021

miles' birthday and ice skating



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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. Happy Thursday. Like an absolute dummy, I sacrificed twenty minutes of sleep last night so I could hack on a side project. I’m working on a program that will scan every word in my journal entries and turn them into a word cloud. After so many entries, the ol’ blog has become a very rich and interesting data set, but also a real scaling challenge. As I continually tweak the algorithm to “normalize” words (strip out symbols, markup, numbers, etc.), I’ve noticed that even the smallest change can add entire minutes to the program’s running time, and I feel incredibly lucky. One of the biggest problems with side projects is that they rarely get big enough to create any interesting problems. But scanning, sanitizing, and sorting over 700,000 words? What an addictive puzzle!

But enough computer stuff. We’ll save that for a rainy day. It’s time to set all the programming nerdery aside and bring out the main course. It’s time for me to comment on the weather, ramble about my day, and take a sip of coffee.

Sip. It’s good to be here everyone. I hope the boring parts of your week like meetings and chores are flying by, and that things are slowing down for the good parts like naps, meals, and birthday cake.

Yesterday was Miles’ birthday. It was a quiet, dignified birthday. He sat content in his high chair like it was any other day. We brought out a homemade birthday cake to paw at.

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At first, Marissa attempted to draw a chess piece on the top. But she couldn’t quite capture the nuances of a chess piece without drawing something that made her uncomfortable, so she wiped it clean and just wrote CHESS on the top instead.

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Art was never really one of Marissa's strengths anyway.

After getting Miles cleaned up, we relocated to the dining room to open up his presents. Miles kept trying to make a break for the stairs. Each time he crawled away, Marissa gently dragged him back into the middle of the action by his ankle.

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And then it was all finished. Miles started to putter around with his toys and Rodney helped me throw away the garbage. Marissa and I remembered what a real 1 year old birthday felt like. It’s hard to keep the party rocking with a distracted 1 year old.

“Remember Rodney’s party?” commented Marissa. “It was basically just like a regular party, and I remember why. They’re just not that interested in it when they’re that young.”

The other big news of the day was Rodney’s first ice skating lesson. We talked it up to each other all day until it was finally in striking distance. After work, Rodney and I put on some warm clothes and started to gather our things. From the pile of toys that Rodney wanted to bring along, we reached a sensible compromise.

“You can bring your spider,” I told him. “But the sword, shield, and ninja gear are just a little much.”

The rink was much closer to our house than I thought - just a five minute drive across the adjacent street. From the back seat, Rodney filled my ear with wild fantasies of meeting Kaner, following him back to Cah-go, and resuming our skate lesson with the Chicago Blackhawks. None of that happened, but Rodney was just as excited to see the big ice rink and all the other kids his age waiting in line.

Rodney chatted up other kids. He politely waved at other parents. He cooed at babies. He even had the lady at the registration desk laughing showing her all the tricks his spider could do. Rodney was brimming with confidence. The lady at the desk directed us to the back corner where Rodney’s dainty rental skates were waiting.

His rental skates were on the small side. It was a bit of a process wedging his feet inside, but once we managed I gave them the authentic hockey skates treatment, tying the laces tightly all the way up past his ankle. Rodney stood, balancing deftly on the metal blades. Ready for take-off.

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There were only about four other kids in his class. One of the kids was dressed in full hockey pads, and Rodney was envious. The teacher had them practice falling down outside the rink. “To get back up,” she explained, “Go on your knees like a puppy, bring one knee up, and push off your knee until you are standing up tall.”

During this introductory period, Rodney was a star pupil. The teacher reviewed the steps, pausing for a response - “and then you…?”

“Go on your knees, like a puppy!” said Rodney proudly.

“Very good, Rodney!” she commended. Rodney beamed with pride.

Things took a turn when it was time to climb out onto the ice. Rodney was anxious, having the same look of panic in his eyes as a corgi who was about to get dropped in a soapy bathtub. He froze up, clutching my arm in fear. His ankles began to wobble.

We practiced falling and standing back up again, this time gathered in the corner of the ice rink. It wasn’t as fun for Rodney. The ice was hard and cold. His rental skates felt so small and wobbly. He fell to the ground each time he tried to stand up.

“I think I’m pretty done,” he said. “I want to get off the ice.”

It was good timing that the teacher wheeled out a cart of plastic toys. The kids in the class were instructed to pick something out, throw it across the ice, and go fetch it, taking “tiny marches” along the way. The cart filled with exciting toys kept Rodney’s head in the game. Still clutching my sweater sleeve, we took tiny marches together all the way across the ice.

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He flung a pink hula-hoop. It skittered along the ice. We took slow, steady marches until we reached it again.

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When we had finally reached the pink hula hoop, Rodney was exhausted.

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Our teacher rounded us up again, telling us the first class was finished. Rodney seemed a little dazed, walking all the way to our car in the parking lot. He tried to carry on a conversation about how his spider wanted to try ice skating too, but I could hear a small lump forming in his throat. When he made it to his car seat, he broke down.

“I don’t really like ice skating,” he said. “I’m not pretty good at it.” He buried his head in his hands and began to cry.

“Hey, it’s OK buddy,” I said consoling him. “Nobody expects you to be good at something you’ve never tried before. And plus, I think those rental skates didn’t fit you very well. We’ll find a different pair for you.”

“Hockey pads too,” Rodney added.

That night, I pulled the book Hockey is for Me off his shelf for story time. It’s a book written by hockey player Jamal Mayers about how he fell and was teased the first time he tried to ice skate. The message hit home for Rodney.

“Ice skating is kind of pretty tricky,” said Rodney.

“Dude, I thought you did awesome,” I said. I pulled out my phone. Rodney looked at the pictures of himself on the ice.

“I’m ice skating,” he said.

After putting Rodney to bed, Marissa and I stood outside his door for a few minutes quietly listening to Rodney recap the day for his big green dinosaur Hauncy. He explained to Hauncy how to go on his knees like a puppy and stand-up on ice skates. He told Hauncy about how cold the ice was and how tricky it was to stay on his feet. He read through Hockey is for Me just one more time, using his own words.

Thanks for stopping by today. Remember - if you fall, just get on your knees like a puppy, stand up tall and proud, and keep taking tiny marches forward. Have a good day everyone.